LET’S face it. We’ve all had gut issues at some point or another while on the bike. I know I certainly have. I’ve also dealt with cramping too, although thankfully not as much as other riders I know.
NOW I’m no expert on the gut, not by any means, but thankfully they’re out there and my recent foray into the world of digestion and nutrition has been via the book “The Athlete’s Gut – The inside science of digestion, nutrition and stomach distress” by Patrick Wilson, PHD, RD.
ADMITTEDLY I just started reading it. I’m about fifty pages in, on chapter two (2), but I’ve already picked up a few nuggets and wanted to share them with you right away because in my mind they are surprising.
What is the Gut?
THE gut (aka the alimentary canal), an approximately 30-foot long system, starts at the nasal cavity, includes the mouth and the salivary glands; and as it heads “south” includes the esophagus, stomach, liver, gallbladder, pancreas, large intestine, small intestine, rectum and finally, the anus.
I won’t go into the nitty-gritty of each piece of anatomy but Dr. Wilson does so if you want those details order the book or do a bit of googling.
On a side note and and speaking of the gut…The photo of me at the top of this post is from 2013. I weighed more than 300 pounds then and as you can see definitely had a nice (er…large) belly.
The Small Intestine
THE small intestine is really where the magic happens! It is the longest portion of the gut and as you likely know, in order to fit all of it into your stomach cavity, it does a bit of coiling. Typically that sucker is about four (4) to eight (8) yards long and “that’s about the same length as a female green anaconda snake!” Not sure why Dr. Wilson goes with that particular reptile but it’s his book so I guess he’s entitled.
A bit more anatomy here…The small intestine is made up of three (3) segments and they are the duodenum, the jejunum and the ileum. Okay, I’ve heard some of those terms over the years on various medical TV shows but didn’t really have a clue they were part of the small bowel.
“In addition to serving as a location for digestion, your small intestine is the alimentary canal’s most important site of absorption.”
What? It’s not the stomach? I always thought it was the place where that takes place.
Nope, it’s that little bowel!
REMEMBER that word, and those experiments from science class? Here’s a quick refresher:
“OSMOSIS is movement of a solvent (such as water) through a semipermeable membrane (as of a living cell) into a solution of higher solute concentration that tends to equalize the concentrations of solute on the two sides of the membrane.” – Merriam-Webster
PER Dr. Wilson: “The bulk of water absorption–perhaps up to 80%–takes place in our small intestine and occurs via osmosis. Ah, there it is!
WHY should we care? What’s the practical application for cyclists (really all athletes for that matter)?
WHEN you down a beverage full of carbs or electrolytes osmosis will move water from your blood into your small intestine lumen, which is exactly WHAT WE DON’T WANT when we’re working out!
SO, on days when you want to optimize the SPEED at which fluids are absorbed, don’t go hypertonic (where osmolality is higher than your blood plasma – apple juice and pickle juice are two examples) as these beverage types delay water absorption.
That’s All…For Now
THIS is only part one after all.
I’M definitely no scientist but for those of you who’ve been following my blog for some time now you know that I am into science. Especially this kind of science!
A better understanding of how things work internally leads to a better athlete and a more healthy individual over all.
STAY tuned for more on this fascinating and oh so important aspect of just how that gut affects our performance. Like I wrote earlier, I’m just getting started so I know there’s much more to learn, and therefore share with you.
RIDE on, stay safe and healthy and instead of kicking our own asses (due to a lack of alimentary knowledge) “let’s kick some passes’ asses!”